Gail Carriger Swans Round the British Museum

Tuesday morning, Gentle Reader, I sneaked away from my authorial duties to reconnect with my archaeological roots. AKA I went to the British Museum. The BM is, all PC issues aside, one of the world’s greatest repositories of archaeological artifacts and human knowledge.

But what has that to do with writing, Miss Gail? Or the Parasol Protectorate books?

Aside from the fact that it was in the BM I first heard of Amelia Edwards, whose travel journal (A Thousand Miles Up The Nile) not only spearheaded the Victorian fascination with Egypt but inspired the character of Alexia, this is also the possible origin of my archaeological career.

I’ve been visiting the BM for almost 30 years since I first travel to London to visit my Grandparents. At first I would pilgrimage only to the Egyptian section.


But as I have gotten older and worked in different sites around the globe, my taste has expanded to include other areas of the world. And now age and wisdom, and fellow tourists, have driven me to less visited and lesser know sections of this grand old lady.

Roman mosaics decorating walls of the stairwells

Still, I do tend to have a pattern that rather reflects my interests. What does this have to do with my writing? Who knows. Perhaps it is insight into my mind and what it focuses on?

Ancient Egyptian furniture

I like artifacts of daily life, rather than the great and noble offerings for gods. While there are still funerary offerings, I am, nevertheless drawn to that which represent the home and household items.

I have a particular passion for mosaics, the idea of creating images out of little rocks and bits of pottery that people walked all over is strangely enthralling.

Pottery is my true love. Fellow tourists are often confused when, instead of grand mummies, I spend hours staring at old pots.

Predynastic Egyptian open fired pottery was one of the first artifacts I ever handled. I’ve spent various seasons over the years trying to replicate it was well. So I always try to track it down to pay homage.

Etruscan Bucchero was the first pottery I every excavated and studied scientifically. I spent two seasons at a site in Northern Italy and then wrote my Undergraduate Honor’s these on the subject. I analyzed Bucchero potsherds using XRD, not all that successfully. You might recognize the connection to Blameless. The Etruscan tomb picnic with the Templars takes place at a fictional version of my site.

My first masters thesis (the MS or MSc as they call them in these parts) was on pottery for the site of Raqqa (now Aleppo) in Syria. Raqqa was an industrial production site of massive proportions producing all kinds of amazing pottery but this turquoise and black is so key tot he site in some circles it is know as Raqqaware. These days I think of the cover of Changeless when I look at it, and then I start funneling the glaze recipes through my head in little rounds of chemical formulas.

I never had the pleasure of working on Iznik pottery. The decoration on these vessels is the greatest mankind has ever produced. The Japanese may have achieve amazing flow of form and elegance of style, and the Chinese more pure technical mastery, but there is something about Iznik pottery. I’m hypnotized by it, not as an archeologist, but as a potter. The use of color adn design, the incorporation of both tiny details and bold figures an elements. It’s simply stunning.

In the BM the Islamic room is tucked away in the basement, often neglected by the hoards of Rosetta-hungry tourists tromping above. If you ever make it to visit, you owe it to yourself to look at these beauties. The sheer skill is unreal. No finer works of art have come from a potter’s wheel before or since.

Book News:
Fiction State of Mind reviews Heartless.
And Heartless is one of the Top 10 steampunk books of 2011.

Quote of the Day:
“Tea is instant wisdom – just add water!”
~ Astrid Alauda

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